Fifth Sunday after Pentecost by The Rev. Dick Toll

Lessons:

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24
Psalm 30

2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

 

In our story from the Gospel today I would like us to look at that portion of the story with the 12-year girl.  We hear that the father of the girl is a leader at the synagogue and comes to Jesus because his daughter is dying and he wants to have Jesus come and lay hands on her for healing.

Jesus puts it off and as the story unfolds the girl apparently dies and the people see the coming of Jesus as too late to help her.  But, he goes anyhow.  And we are told that she recovers and lives again including being told to eat something.

I have often wondered about this story as to what learning’s took place and take place for us.  The words Jesus uses to address the young girl is “KUMI” which translates to “Rise up” “Rise up”.

This young 12-year girl began life at some point when she was born.  Someone, just like you and I, were patted on the rear end and we screamed out with our first breath.  We were alive and began breathing regularly.  It is the mystery we are all a part of…..life itself.  A gift given and received and the other mystery we live with is death.  At some point we will breathe our last breath and be beyond this world and we wonder about what the next stage of our being will be.  And it becomes the mystery that millions of books have been written about and religious beliefs develop.

But, back to our story.  We do not know the story of the 12-year girl.  Was she handicapped?  Was she able to talk about this experience later?  Did she take her last breath and die?  That is what the story tells us.  “KUMI”, rise up Jesus tells her.  Her eyes open.  Did she scream like when she was a baby?

What happened to her?  We do not know.  Did she live another 5, 10, 20, 40 years?  Did she have children of her own?  Did she repeat this story and give thanks for her new life?  Did she forget about it and get lost in the routine of everyday living…all this time breathing life…rising up each morning to face a new day.  Living until she died again.

How many times did she rise up over the years?  I know in my own experience I have had several near death experiences…car wrecks, accidents, and cramps while swimming, surgery.  The mystery of my life continues.  And the word “KUMI” came to me, “rise up” as an individual, as a culture, as a people, as a community, we are asked to “rise up” and live again.  At in all times and in all places, it is who we are. “Rise Up”.

Some of our learning to “rise up” and live can be transformative.  I knew a woman who at one time who had been abandoned on the streets off a country in South America.  She was five years old and her parents left her on a city corner and never returned for her.  She grew up in an orphanage and later became educated, married, and had a family of her own.  She came to visit us and we went to the Lloyd Center shopping.  Her six-year-old daughter disappeared, wandered off and was lost and found 20 minutes later.  But the mother had flashbacks of being abandoned and later had to receive treatments in the hospital to be able to “rise up” and live again.  I am sure many of us have memories of moments of learning the hard lessons of what it means to breathe and live and “rise up”.

One of my earliest memories of being raised in West Texas was the intense heat.  When I was very young we had no air-conditioning and the heat was often over 100 degrees.  I remember a Latino woman who took care of us as children when my mother worked.  She would put me down for a nap on the bare floor in the heat of the day and I can still remember the coolness of the floor that allowed me to go to sleep and “rise up” to play again.  As I was put on the floor, I can still remember her words, “pobrecito” “poor little one” in Spanish.

Each of us can turn to moments in time when we grew up.  It might have been a decision you made. It might have been a controversy or an argument won or an argument loss.

But something changed because of our learning in a moment of time.  The Latino woman that took care of our family when my mother was working had a son in the Korean War on an aircraft carrier.  She received word one day of his death when a plane crashed on a return flight.  She was grief stricken.  I was only 12 and knew little of what to say or do.  But, I had received a gift at Christmas of a $20 bill and put it at the bottom of her purse knowing she would find it someday and because she was needy I knew she could use it.  I never knew what happened to her in finding my anonymous gift.  I do know that I learned about the need to give beyond ones own self. 

When I was ordained here at Grace Memorial in 1968, Elaine and I made a commitment to tithe 10% of our income to the Church and organizations we wanted to support.  We have continued that for the 53 years of my priesthood.  “Rise Up”…life awaits you…what’s next?  How do I affect the future yet to unfold?  “KUMI” rise up.

This story has some bad history for me in my own time in the priesthood.  Forty-five years ago I had a woman in the hospital with a broken hip.  She had a group of faith healers come to her bed in the hospital and read this passage of scripture and they asked her to get out of bed and walk.  They told her she was healed.  She stepped out of bed, fell down and broke her other hip.  The saddest part of the story is that the prayer group blamed her for not having enough faith.  Four of the five doctors in the county were members of my church and were disturbed that religious people were allowed in the hospital to do such things.  Rise up was not the answer for her as the people wanted for her.  Healing needed to take time.

The young woman in the story today had a purpose for living.  We don’t know beyond this story what that purpose was but we can imagine she joined in a long line of people who were able to assist others in their own journey of life.

We are at a new moment of “KUMI” through out this nation and through out the world.  The pandemic is leaving us with many scars that will take time to heal from our isolation, our lack of family ties, our day-to-day routines.

We cannot remember our first breath or the cry we expressed as we came into the world.  But our breathing is life itself and to rise to new moments, to hear “KUMI” “rise up” to receive a new lease on life.  To look at yourself in the mirror and thank God for being here in God’s creation as a servant to others. 

“KUMI” “Rise Up”

Amen

Trinity Sunday 2021, by the Reverend Martin Elfert

This is a Billy Collins poem. It is called Introduction to Poetry. And it goes like this.

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

I love that poem for a lot of reasons – one of them being that it works just as well if you swap out the word poem and swap in other words. Like, say, the word Bible.

I ask them to take the Bible
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into the Bible
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the Bible’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of scripture
waving at the authors’ names on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the Bible to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

We could try out other words, including other words of our faith.

I say drop a mouse into the Creed…

Or walk inside salvation’s room…

or

Hold the resurrection up to the light.

Today is Trinity Sunday. And under the Canons of the Episcopal Church, there is a joke that every preacher is required to make on this day. The preacher is required to look around in exaggerated exasperation and then say: How did I end up preaching today? Or, if they are seminarian or a guest preacher, they are required to offer a variation on the joke and say, Of course, the rector scheduled me for today. Either way, the premise of the joke is the same:

Preaching on this day means that you have drawn the short straw. It is the homiletical equivalent of being ambushed by the child who demands that you explain where babies come from, except that explaining the Trinity is not merely awkward, it is also impossible.

And the premise of that joke is probably right if our plan is to tie the Trinity to a chair and beat it with a hose to find out what it really means, if our plan is to explain it, much as we might explain the operation of lever or a pulley or a non-fungible token. We can get out that famous diagram of the Trinity (do you know the one: Jesus is God; the Holy Spirit is God; the Father is God and Jesus is not the Father; the Father is not the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is not Jesus) and find out that the Holy Trinity makes less sense than it did when we began.

If explaining the Trinity is the assignment, of course folks dread preaching on this Sunday.

But what if that isn’t what this Sunday is about at all? What if, on this Sunday, we are invited instead to waterski on the surface of the Trinity?

Early on in my time as a Christian, maybe a year after I had been baptised, I encountered some arguments against church and against faith more broadly. Maybe you have encountered some of these arguments yourself. The one that I remember in particular went something like this:

The explanation that the Bible offers for the world and its workings made sense to our ancestors because it was the best explanation they had. They didn’t know any better. But we have better explanations, we know better. And so we don’t need those explanations anymore. Much like Paul growing up and putting away childish things, it’s time for us to put aside the childishness of faith. We’ve outgrown it.

I was fascinated by that critique. Because, prior to that moment, friends, it had never, ever occurred to me that I was in church looking for an explanation.

I had always been in church looking for poetry.

I had always been there looking for holy stories, symbols, and practices, proclaimed and enacted within community, that would give me a structure and rhythm within which to respond in wonder to the mystery of this life.

So.

I kind of adore Nicodemus. He is unique to the Gospel of John. And there he is a recurring character. Today we hear about his first appearance. Nicodemus has heard about Jesus, heard about the amazing things that Jesus says and does. And even though Jesus is totally unpopular with both the church and the state, two institutions in which Nicodemus is pretty heavily invested in his role as teacher, theologian, and leader, Nicodemus decides he has to see him anyway.

He’s not reckless though: he sneaks out to see Jesus at night.

And no sooner has he met Jesus, no sooner have the two of them shaken hands, than Jesus drops one of those inspiring and confusing lines for which he is famous. Jesus says:

I’m telling ya, Nick,

No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.

To which Nicodemus’ brow furrows so hard that you could plant potatoes in the creases. He says:

It seems to me, Jesus, that I am quite large. And these days, my mother is fairly small – I’m actually taller than her. I just don’t see how I could get back into her womb, not even with a running start.

And Jesus is like,

Dude, are you seriously a teacher?

Because Nicodemus is trying to tie up Jesus’ words and beat them with a hose. He is trying to reduce Jesus’ words to something explainable and, therefore, something manageable and quantifiable and domesticable.

But Jesus’ words aren’t an explanation. They are holy poetry that points us to God. And like all poetry, his words will not be managed or quantified or domesticated.

Now, I want to stop and throw in a serious caveat here. Because when we realise that scripture itself warns us against reading scripture at a crudely literal level, when we realise that Jesus himself warns us against reading Jesus at a crudely literal level, there can be a tendency – and I reckon this tendency is especially prevalent within the Episcopal church – to replace a crudely literal reading with a crudely metaphorical reading.

And what I mean by “crudely metaphorical” that, is that is that we can succumb to the temptation to announce that everything that happens in scripture which defies our understanding or falls outside of our experience is “just a metaphor.” This is especially true of embarrassing things, like miracles. So, the resurrection is just a metaphor for what happened in the disciples’ hearts after Jesus’ death, Christmas is just a metaphor for how special Jesus later proved to be, the transfiguration is just a metaphor Jesus’ brilliance as a leader.

No!

This crudely metaphorical reading is nothing more than fundamentalism with a mirror held up to it. It is the very same mistake as crude literalism, but in reverse. If the fundamentalist is threatened by the possibility that scripture might be anything other than literally an inerrantly true, the crude metaphoricalist is threatened by the possibility that anything in the Bible actually happened. In this mirror-image mistake, we are still beating the Bible with a hose trying to find out what it really means, still trying to manage and quantify and domesticate Jesus.

And Jesus won’t have that. He way too wild and free and holy.

You can’t explain Jesus. Well, that’s a dangerous thing to say. Let’s try this: You can attempt to explain Jesus – or the Creeds or the Trinity – and the trying matters, the exploring matters, the searching matters. But even as you understand one layer about God, there will always by further layers that are out of your reach. One of my favourite profs put it this way: He thought his search was like climbing a mountain and, when he reached the peak, he would know everything. But as he neared the peak he looked around and realised that there were all these other mountains – range after range – that he had yet to climb.

While you cannot explain God in an intellectual way, you can know Jesus, know him in your gut, in your heart, in the way that you know that a certain piece of music is beautiful and that a certain joke is funny and that someone is telling you the truth when they speak those staggering words, I love you. You can know that Jesus is showing us what God is like. And you can know that, in imitation of Christ, the creeds show us what God is like and the doctrine of the Trinity shows us what God is like.

In the Trinity you know that each of these three persons are one – each of them is God – and you know that they retain their individual identity. Speaking of love, this is what happens in love, isn’t it? You are something together and yet you remain you, you remain yourself, you remain free. And here is another thing that you know in the Trinity.

You know that you are invited to participate.

Listen to Paul: You are children of God. You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery. You received a spirit of adoption. You are a full member of this family.

The Trinity is not something that you can explain that you can manage or quantify or domesticate. It is not something that will ever make any sense if you tie it to a chair and beat with a hose to find out what it really means. But if you waterski across its surface, if you walk inside its room, if you hold it up to the light, you might just find that you get born into something new.